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NBA AM: Looking At The Free Agent Tiers

An early look at the 2016 NBA Free Agency class, by tiers… The Celtics want to be aggressive, but is there too much money out there?

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The Free Agent Tiers

While July 1 is still a bit down the road, it’s never too early to start looking at the free agent class, especially with so much money heading into the NBA free agent market this summer.

Recently on Twitter, I assembled something of a tier list of the top free agents, not just in terms of their current ability but in terms of how coveted they may be in July.

In total there are 270 players who logged time in the NBA this season that will have the chance to hit free agency in July. Some of those players hold team friendly option years, so they may not hit the market, but the bulk of the names on these lists likely are available to field offers come midnight on July 1.

So here is the top tier, listed in no particular order, including their current team and their salary last season.

The Top Tier

Rajon Rondo  Sacramento Kings  $9,500,000
Mike Conley  Memphis Grizzlies  $9,388,426
Jordan Clarkson  Los Angeles Lakers  $845,059
Dwyane Wade  Miami Heat  $20,000,000
Evan Fournier  Orlando Magic  $2,288,205
Kent Bazemore  Atlanta Hawks  $2,000,000
Kevin Durant  Oklahoma City Thunder  $20,158,622
DeMar DeRozan  Toronto Raptors  $10,150,000
Bradley Beal  Washington Wizards  $5,694,674
LeBron James  Cleveland Cavaliers  $22,970,500
Harrison Barnes  Golden State Warriors  $3,873,398
Chandler Parsons  Dallas Mavericks  $15,361,500
Nicolas Batum  Charlotte Hornets  $13,125,306
Al Horford  Atlanta Hawks  $12,000,000
Dirk Nowitzki  Dallas Mavericks  $8,333,334
Bismack Biyombo  Toronto Raptors  $2,814,000
Andre Drummond  Detroit Pistons  $3,272,091
Dwight Howard  Houston Rockets  $22,359,364
Hassan Whiteside  Miami Heat  $981,348

Here is the next tier, also listed in no particular order, including their current team and their salary last season.

The Second Tier

Deron Williams  Dallas Mavericks  $5,378,974
Ty Lawson  Indiana Pacers  $211,744
Mario Chalmers  Free Agents  $4,300,000
Norris Cole  New Orleans Pelicans  $3,036,928
Jarrett Jack  Brooklyn Nets  $6,300,000
Jeremy Lin  Charlotte Hornets  $2,139,000
D.J. Augustin  Denver Nuggets  $3,000,000
Brandon Jennings  Orlando Magic  $8,344,497
Austin Rivers  Los Angeles Clippers  $3,110,796
Mo Williams  Cleveland Cavaliers  $2,100,000
Shaun Livingston  Golden State Warriors  $5,543,725
Matt Dellavedova  Cleveland Cavaliers  $1,147,276
Seth Curry  Sacramento Kings  $947,276
Courtney Lee  Charlotte Hornets  $5,675,000
Gerald Henderson  Portland Trail Blazers  $6,000,000
Dion Waiters  Oklahoma City Thunder  $5,138,430
Jerryd Bayless  Milwaukee Bucks  $3,000,000
Wayne Ellington  Brooklyn Nets  $1,500,000
Lance Stephenson  Memphis Grizzlies  $9,000,000
Jamal Crawford  Los Angeles Clippers  $5,675,000
Eric Gordon  New Orleans Pelicans  $15,514,031
J.R. Smith  Cleveland Cavaliers  $5,000,000
Arron Afflalo  New York Knicks  $8,000,000
Jared Dudley  Washington Wizards  $4,375,000
Evan Turner  Boston Celtics  $3,425,510
Allen Crabbe  Portland Trail Blazers  $947,276
Joe Johnson  Miami Heat  $261,894
Jeff Green  Los Angeles Clippers  $9,300,000
Luol Deng  Miami Heat  $10,151,612
Maurice Harkless  Portland Trail Blazers  $2,894,059
Marvin Williams  Charlotte Hornets  $7,000,000
Jared Sullinger  Boston Celtics  $2,269,260
Jon Leuer  Phoenix Suns  $1,035,000
David Lee  Dallas Mavericks  $2,085,671
Terrence Jones  Houston Rockets  $2,489,530
Pau Gasol  Chicago Bulls  $7,448,760
Ersan Ilyasova  Orlando Magic  $7,900,000
Derrick Williams  New York Knicks  $4,400,000
Ryan Anderson  New Orleans Pelicans  $8,500,000
Zaza Pachulia  Dallas Mavericks  $5,200,000
Joakim Noah  Chicago Bulls  $13,400,000
Timofey Mozgov  Cleveland Cavaliers  $4,950,000
Marreese Speights  Golden State Warriors  $3,815,000
Festus Ezeli  Golden State Warriors  $2,008,748
Jordan Hill  Indiana Pacers  $4,000,000
Al Jefferson  Charlotte Hornets  $13,500,000

The third tier was a little lengthy and included a lot of players that were on ten-day deals. You can find the complete 2016 NBA Free Agent list here.

The Celtics’ Plan

While most NBA executives tend to bury their heads in the proverbial sand during the offseason, Celtics President and General Manager Danny Ainge continues to be one of the more visible and vocal executives in basketball.

Ainge sat down with WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Sunday night and revealed some of his thoughts on the draft and his team’s pending free agency windfall.

“I’m excited about the No. 3 pick,” Ainge said. “I would have been excited that night if you had told me before the night started that’s the pick we were getting. For a minute, I let my mind drift to getting the one or two. It certainly doesn’t have the same cachet in trade conversations of trying to get better quicker, so it sets that back or we would have to give up more than the No. 1 or 2 overall pick. But there are good players if we end up using that pick. We’re excited about the potential players.”

Most insiders believe that after LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram come off the board, the options for the Celtics could be wide ranging including international big man Dragan Bender.

“I can’t talk about any players in particular, but a player that is going to take time to develop or a player who may not come to the NBA for a year or two, if we feel he’s the best player we have to take him. We can’t let a player slip by us just because it doesn’t fulfill our immediate satisfaction, or the objective for the fans to see someone exciting,” he said. “We have to pick the best player under any circumstance. There are too many examples of really good players that fans haven’t been excited about. When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted by New York, fans were booing all over the place and we didn’t understand. When I was in Phoenix and we drafted Steve Nash, we were booed.

“You can’t base your decisions on what the public thinks and what other people think you should do. You just really have to use your experience, your work and eyes, and we communicate all the time the best road for us to go,” said Ainge.

The Celtics have a solid core of players, but Ainge understands being middle of the East isn’t good enough and that everyone involved wants to see significant improvement.

“Right now, we’re trying to become a better team as fast as we can without selling out. We want to become a more significant team this upcoming year, and at the same time we want to build something that is sustainable for a long period of time,” Ainge said.

“Ownership would like to see something happen faster and I know my coaches and players want to see something faster. I’ve been in their positions and I get it, I want to see something faster too. But I have to protect us from doing something irrational, from doing something that gets us a little bit better. If it’s something that gets us to being a true championship contender faster, we’re all for it. As long as it’s a sustainable formula and not a one-year quick hit, sacrificing future assets,” he said. “Everything depends on how much money a player wants, how many assets you have to give up to get that person. There are a lot of what ifs, and that’s what we’ll be doing the next six weeks, trying to figure out what’s available to us. The things we like to do we still have to find partners for, which is very challenging.”

The Celtics are one of 24 NBA teams that will have ample free agent money to spend, and while having cap space is normally a good thing, this year there may be too much money available to make smart deals.

“There is a lot of money out there because of the new TV contract that is kicking it. It’s going to be challenge and is sort of a new territory for the NBA. I think two-thirds of the league can offer at least one max contract, which has never happened before. We’re a team that can offer two max contracts, but there aren’t that many max contract players on the market. The competition is going to be fierce,” said Ainge.

“We have plans that we would like to do and that we’ll do everything we can to try and do, but there are no guarantees in any of that. It’s my job to pull the brakes back and make sure we don’t do something stupid that will hurt our team in the long run.”

The Celtics are one of the teams angling for a free agent meeting with Thunder star Kevin Durant and Grizzlies guard Mike Conley. Neither are expected to move from where they are, but the Celtics are hoping that another run through the draft, their current roster and the means to build around incoming free agents might be appealing enough for Boston to not only get a meeting, but win out a free agent frenzy.

The Celtics were one of the team linked to Atlanta’s Al Horford at the trade deadline and there is a belief that if Durant and Conley come off the board, the Celtics may have interest in Houston’s Dwight Howard.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/24/18

The deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft has passed, so Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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The Deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft was April 22, however, the NBA hasn’t yet released the full list of eligible players. There appear to be more than 153 underclassmen that have declared to “test the waters” according to reports. By way of comparison, last year there were 137 players from college and an additional 45 from international basketball that declared early, with 73 of those players pulling out after going through the process.

The 2018 Draft class could be shaping up to be one of the biggest, especially when you consider the volume of highly draftable seniors.

There are still some dates to keep in mind:

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant draft milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the final pre-draft lottery draft order:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. Based on the final regular-season standings should convey to Philadelphia if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and would convey if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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NBA

NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers

The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.

The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.

“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.

General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.

“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”

Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.

“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.

When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.

“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”

Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.

“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.

Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”

Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.

“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”

Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.

“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”

Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting

Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.

“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”

With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.

“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.

Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.

“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.

For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.

“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”

Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.

“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.

Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.

“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.

Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.

“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.

When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.

“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”

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NBA

The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’

Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?

Spencer Davies

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In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.

Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.

While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.

The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.

After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.

The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.

And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.

But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.

This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.

Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.

However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.

Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?

Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.

There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.

It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.

And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.

Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.

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